CEO — EIMCo
“If I didn't come to IMTS, I'd fall behind. We have to constantly look for the next best thing. All that information is in one area where I can evaluate the options side by side. Rather than flying across the country, I walk across an aisle. It saves us valuable time and money.”
Rick Hoffman had a dream to start his own machine shop at a young age, and he reached that goal in a few short years. Today he owns and manages EIMCo in Farley, Iowa, a successful machine shop with a diverse customer base. Hoffman struggles with the labor shortage but addresses it head-on by finding automation solutions at IMTS.
“I attended IMTS for the first time in 1980 while still working for another shop, and I’ve attended every IMTS ever since,” Hoffman said. “Even before I started my own business, I came to the show looking for what's new, something to learn, and ways to improve productivity. It helped me build up the knowledge I needed to have my own shop.”
In 1992, Hoffman opened EIMCo, starting with a Doosan two-axis lathe and a Leadwell three-axis mill. Some small local companies had confidence in Hoffman and became his first customers. The operation steadily expanded from there. Today the company employs more than 150 people and fulfills parts orders in quantities from one to 100,000s.
Taking Anything and Everything
EIMCo is different from other machine shops because it accepts jobs from clients in just about any industry and does not focus on a niche. It could be gun parts one day, snowboard latches another, then pub tables and bean squeezers the next day. By not relying on just one or two industries, the company has protected itself against industry downturns and hasn’t ever had a layoff.
“We will look at any job that is viable for us to do because our capabilities are very broad,” Hoffman said. “We started with a mill and a lathe, but now we do plasma cutting, flame cutting, laser cutting, robotic welding, induction hardening, heat treating and assembly. It makes it a much more interesting place to work. Our employees enjoy doing different things instead of the same boring job every day.”
For the last few years, EIMCo has been making pub tables that go to Budweiser for use in bars. The aluminum tables are made of rolled tubing that requires intricate welding. Hoffman found a perfect welding solution at IMTS 2012 for a different job, but now applies the technology to make the pub tables.
“At the show we were introduced to TIP TIG, a hotwire welding system that uses a vibrating pre-heated wire feed technology,” Hoffman said. “It gave us a new way to weld long sections of round steel tubing to powdered metal castings. It used to take us five minutes to weld each powder part to the tube. (which required four operators and three shifts), but with TIP TIG we get it done in less than 60 seconds, so we only need two operators and two shifts. It adds up to a lot of saved time and cost for us.”
Hoffman credits his approach to working the South and North Buildings with finding TIP TIG. When he arrives, he heads straight to the farthest corner of each building, then walks every aisle of the building to scan exhibits.
“TIP TIG was in a small booth toward the back of the North building, and they had exactly the technology we needed for automated TIG welding. That proves you can find hidden gems anywhere on the show floor,” says Hoffman.
IMTS has provided information that EIMCo needed to take on other jobs as well. A washing machine manufacturer challenged the company to make a more reliable bearing housing. The manufacturer was experiencing an 0.8 percent bearing failure rate, which equaled about eight washing machine failures per day. EIMCo went to IMTS 1996 looking for automation equipment that could load and unload this part and cycle it in 15 seconds or less. At the show, they discovered Miyano LZ-01 CNC auto-loading lathe with a load/unload time under four seconds, which reduced washing machine failures to 0.2 percent and earned EIMCo the business to run 2.5 million parts over two years.
“We would have lost money on that project if we hadn’t used the new equipment we found at the show,” Hoffman said. “At future shows, we will be looking for more high-speed load/unload solutions for making small powdered metal parts for natural gas meters. We hope to run up to 90,000 of these parts per week and we need new equipment to reduce the load/unload step so we can be more productive.”
Hoffman has added multiple Swiss machines since IMTS 2010 and continues to add more robotic load/unload solutions from Halter Automation.
“The operators love the Halter’s easy five-minute changeover and simple programming,” Hoffman said. It allows them to be much more productive in the shop, instead of plugging parts in and out of a machine. Automation has become essential for our business.”
EIMCo relies on IMTS to stay on the cutting edge by learning about state-of-the-art solutions that advance processes and lower costs. Although the large exhibits hold a lot of valuable information, Hoffman has found smaller manufacturers exhibiting at the show with great ideas he wouldn’t have known about otherwise, so he always checks out all corners of the show floor.
“If I didn’t come to IMTS, I’d fall behind. We have to constantly look for the next best thing,” Hoffman said. “I can check out a new technology and then walk a few feet to another booth and see what the competition is doing. All that information is in one area where I can evaluate the options side-by-side. Rather than flying across the country, I walk across an aisle. It saves us valuable time and money.”
Bridging the Skills Gap
Retaining qualified workers and recruiting new ones is a top priority for Hoffman, and integrating more automation is one of many steps EIMCo is taking to keep employees happy.
“Robots make it a more appealing job,” Hoffman said. “Workers aren’t sitting there chucking parts in and out of a machine all day. They love the robots and appreciate them. The operators fight over who gets to run them sometimes.”
A busload of EIMCo employees comes to IMTS. The team strategizes ahead of time, discussing what they need to improve at the shop and where they should focus at the show. Robotic automation, optical scanners and automated gauging are their areas of interest for IMTS 2018.
Hoffman attends the show for two days before the rest of the team arrives so he can give them a heads-up on areas that would be the best use of their time. Bringing the team is one way Hoffman gets employees involved in their jobs so they can be empowered to take ownership of their responsibilities.
“By attending IMTS, they get more involved with their job,” Hoffman said. “I tell them to look for something that's going to improve their lives so they can work smarter, not harder. Usually it's some kind of automation, and they get excited about it. When they have that level of control and satisfaction, they are more likely to stay with us.”Read More Stories